Tuesday, January 26, 2016

OMG I've Turned Into One Of Them!

Well, let me tell you about the way she looked
The way she acts and the color of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there - "She's Not There", The Zombies 1964
Buggerlugs - "A gibe or friendly term of greeting particularly when one has forgotten somebodies (sic) name - "Ah G'day buggerlugs, what's 'appening - from Wordbook of Australian Idiom Aussie Slang: No Worries! She's Apples! Kerrin P. Rowe

Upper East Side New Yorkers
"Excuse me, sir," I asked the bus driver, "but can you tell me if you stop at 72nd Street?"

He told me. It was a few stops off so I went back to my seat. "You just can't see what stop you are at," I commented to the woman seated next to me. "That's right," she replied, and told me a story about her daughter and her grandchild and a bus in London 100 years ago.

I pretended to listen attentively while I rehearsed in my head the topics I wanted to discuss with my therapist. When the bus pulled into the stop at 72  I nodded  a thank you to the driver, and headed off past the Dakota. Remembering to remember John..

And then it struck me.

OMG, I've turned into one of them. Calling bus drivers "Sir", conversing New York style on a bus - first it is your turn to talk and your unknown travelling companion's to pretend to listen, and after an acceptable time the roles are reversed. The stranger can talk and you can pretend to listen ....

Calling a bus driver "Sir", talking to total strangers, and the therapist. OMG. Even thinking in  acronyms. What have I become?

Not that it is a bad thing to be,  a New Yorker. Look at Bernie Sanders. Feel the Bern! And Michael Bloomburg who might run for President. And that guy with the orange face and the bizarre comb-over Three New Yorkers standing for Prez. It is OUR year.

Then there's Ted Cruz talking disparaging about "New York values". I didn't think New Yorkers HAD values. That's one of the points of being a New Yorker. I didn't understand any of this stuff when I first came here. I found it odd to hear people call the janitor "Sir".

I had understood that "Sir" was an Englishy sort of thing related to knights in shining armour, and peasants tugging forelocks. Clearly it meant something else here.

It is a fill-in polite sort of word when you don't know someone's name. Of course you could say, "Excuse me, driver," to a bus driver. But "Excuse me janitor," would somehow sound impolite.

So we say "Sir". First person plural intended.

In Australia we too have a word for people whose name  we don't know. "Buggerlugs". It is a friendly semi-derogatory thing. Very Aussie. As in "Who brought Buggerlugs?" when referring to a hanger-on at a party. Or, "Will you give this drink to Buggerlugs over there."

A more polite term in OZLand is, "Hey you!" "Hey you, where does this bus stop?"  Or the friendly generic term of address, "mate". Possibly the most polite of our terms of address. Though it can be used to mean its opposite. As in, "Christ mate, who do yer think you are? Keep that up and I'll kill ya. Mate."

But more often than not, the unknown person is not given a name at all. "Where does this bus stop?"

I remember a year or so ago I asked a bus driver in Clifton Hill , Victoria wthether the bus stopped at Lygon Street. He was a Chinese Austalian and possibly a little  deaf. I asked him twice, louder.

Then a fellow passenger - a "digger" piped up, "Don't talk to him luv, he won't answer, he's not an Aussie." Charming.

Buggerlugs,  "Mate" "Hey you." Or not acknowledging a person at all.

On reflection, he man with the orange face and the bizarre comb-over aside, it's pretty good to be a New Yorker!

But lest you get the wrong impression mate, I'm still an Aussie. And  yes I'm talking to you, Buggerlugs!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Old Women of Manhattan

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, tell where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free - Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock" 1969

Upper East Side Women
Where have they gone, the children of Woodstock? Long time passing. The "where have all the young girls gone" girls. The "I Am Woman" women.

The older women of my parent's generation frequented diners or cafés. Socialized in the dining rooms of their peers.

They had their hair permed and gray-rinsed. Certainly they didn't hang out in  bars. OMG - in Australia women of any age were not even allowed in bars. But the times they have been a-changin'.

The young girls of the nineteen fifties and sixties are now women in their sixties and seventies. You can see some of them in the bars and restaurants of Manhattan. They generally come in groups of two but sometimes dine alone. Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. But this early dining is not because age has wearied them.

Aù contraire. They choose these hours because these are "Happy Hours" here in New York City. Drinks are cheap. Important when on a fixed and limited income as many are.

They quite often have large smiley-face plastic bags on the table next to them, containing the left-over food from their meals, that they'll take home for tomorrow night's dinner home alone.  One night eating in, next night eating out - all for the price of one. Anti global-warming deniers - they would demonstrate against their own carbon footprints - defiant in exposing their own hypocrisy.
Smiley  Face, Happy Hour

Like "alternate side street parking" that we have here - something I've never completely understood - possibly because I don't own a car.

I gather it means that you have to park on the opposite side of the road than the one you parked on the day before. But I can't figure it out. How would one remember? And how would the parking guy know? And what if you parked on the left side on Monday but were away from home on Tuesday. Would Wednesday be the alternate of Monday, or of Tuesday?

The taking home of leftovers though I do understand, though I don't participate. Along with the happy hour drinks it makes economic sense.

I admire the older women of New York. Hanging out in bars, walking wherever they want. Giving as good as they get.

We've come a long way from Yasgur's Farm, and I like to think we've set our souls free. 

Star dust, billion year old carbon.

As they say in New York - "Tell me about it!"

Meanwhile, we'll keep on rocking.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ambient Light

May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young - from "Forever Young" Bob Dylan 1973

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever. - Germaine Greer

Barney's on Madison
It used to be so very easy, when something went wrong. Like my car had a flat tyre. Or I wanted to return a pair of shoes to Myer Melbourne. Or I needed the attention of the waiter.

I would just put on a sad face and would be swarmed with offers of assistance.

Playing the young-and-pretty card. I even made a game of it. How far could I go?

I remember an incident when I lived in Launching Place in Victoria, OZ. I have never been a good driver but had been  pretty accident-free. I put this down to the fact that other drivers saw me coming and got the hell out of Dodge..

But one time I did have an accident -  involving a steel traffic signal pole thing. Side-swiped it, Pedestrians were staring with shocked faces. I accelerated. I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.  Catapulted straight into denial.

The crunching noise had sounded terrible.  I think  I had made the damage  worse be not stopping or even reversing. I can still remember all these years later, the sound of metal rearing. Ripping. And the shocked faces. Christ!

When I did stop to inspect the car I was horrified. There was a huge gaping gash in the passenger door. A wound. A not-meant-to-be thing.

What was I to do?  I couldn't face my husband. I wasn't  prepared to give him evidence towards his belief that I was a hopeless driver. I knew he wouldn't care about the car. But I cared about my reputation.

So I drove to a body repair shop and pretended to cry a little bit, and asked the manager of the car place could I borrow a mallet and some cream paint the color of my car. "I want to fix it myself as I don't want my husband to know I had an accident,  Also we are poor" I said in a sad voice.

Window Display at Dylan's Candy Bar
Manager man consulted with his worker mates., They stood around in a circle in the way men of the Australian bush do when they want to show they are real men solving an important problem..

"Yeah too right we'll fix it for her, poor little thing," they were saying. "The husband's lucky to have her." I thanked them profusely and told them how wonderful they were.  My acting skills are not a lot better than my driving ones, so I cut the thanks short. Nothing worse than over-acting, my father - one of the greatest actors of all time - had taught me.

My job well-done I walked over the road to a coffee shop and read a book while the men pulled out all plugs to get my car looking as good as new.

But those days are well passed. I can't do that sort of thing now. I haven't been able to for a while.

Sometimes I wish I would have been born ugly; then I wouldn't have had to adjust so much. People would never have helped me. The transition  has been hard.

But I made it!!! I change my own tyres now. I don't even have a car anyway, so I don't have car accidents. If waiters don't take any notice of me I yell at them. I am woman, hear me roar!!!!

I don't exploit my own sexuality because I don't have any. Life is good. Was good ...

Something new has begun. I have entered another phase of ny life. An even worse one.

And that is - saying out loud my date of birth - to bank officials, Medicare workers, house insurance people, people at LifeLock who protect me from identity theft. Come to think of it, do I even NEED Lifelock? Who would WANT to pretend they were me?

It goes like this. I will be applying or asking for something by phone, from a person with the authority to deny it.  The conversation, the application will be going very well.  Especially if the person on the phone is  male and Texan. So polite. So charming.

They'll even chat a bit. "Love yer Aussie accent!" they'll say admiringly. "I am sure you can get that loan, insure that house,  return those shoes you don't like anymore."

And then, "We need to establish your identity for our records. What is your date of birth?". I can hear the mouse click at the other end where they are bringing up my personal details on the computer screen.

I answer in a whisper . Maybe they wont notice the year. But of course, they do.

The tone of the conversation changes. Clipped. Polite. Not interested in accent. No way José.

A few times I've tried to play the age card. I don' know what you mean by a "HUD-1 settlement statement," I will say. "I know you told me before but I can't remember!" But it is a fine and dangerous line I am treading here! They might think I am feeble minded. Not worthy of a loan. Not fit to take out insurance.

Actually I tried it once - playing the old card that is. At a hospital here in New York. In the ER. I was lying there, forgotten. Hours passed. I was thirsty. I had no water. When I called to the nurse I was ignored.

I started to get dressed. "What are you doing?" Nurse Ratched snapped. "I'm getting water, I'm thirsty .I  haven't had any liquid for five hours!" She glared in an accusing spooky sort of way.

"Do you know where you are?" "Of course I answered!" "Well where ARE you?" she crowed triumphantly. Trumped like The Donald! I became the old woman she thought me to be. I briefly considered saying I was in Paris having a meal with my man friend, but common sense warned me.

I didn't much like the ER I was in, but was pretty pretty pretty sure that the one at Bellevue would be worse.

So I told her where I was, in an elderly feeble docile sort of way.

Which only goes to show that the system will always win, and we must go gently into these our final days. Or at least pretend to.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Don't Blame Me - I Just Live Here!

You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read It’s well known
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones? - from "Ballad of a Tin Man" - Dylan 1965 

What's-a matter you? Hey!
Gotta no respect. Hey!
What-a you t'ink you do? Hey!
Why you look-a so sad? Hey!
It's-a not so bad.
Hey! It's-a nice-a place.
Ah, shaddap-a you face! - from "Shaddap You Face" - Joe Dolce 1980
Beach, Maine, USA
"Even as I write this on gray and rainy Saturday, the glorious weather of Independence Day weekend is borne back ceaselessly into the past like Gatsby's boats against the current.

I hope this missive finds you well wherever you are, on the docks in the West Egg or in your own backyard."

This was the preamble of a letter from my attorney - I like to call him my end-of-life attorney (it's so American) - just to annoy some of the folks back home who have it in for all things USA.

Sure the USA has a lot to answer for. But it is also - for many of us living here - a very nice place. Especially New York City, where one's end-of-life-attorney references  F. Scott Fitzgerald when sending a letter reminding you to check that your last will and testament is still in order. 

I have a theory about New York - because it is so big, and in many ways by virtue of its size - somewhat impersonal - that people are very friendly and personal with people that they come across in day-to-day encounters.

Most of us live in small apartments and spend large amounts of  time at work. On a physical level our horizons are somewhat cramped. But we make up for it, because the world is our back yard. Central Park, the High Line, Prospect Park, the galleries, the theaters. The literary and music legacies.

Subway Advertisement 2015
And so New Yorkers, seeing the whole city as their own space, will chat to complete strangers, holding whole conversations with people who they are never likely to see again.

And in customer service email - not you pro-forma "Dear Sir/Madam" -  a comment, a viewpoint can find its way into the most mundane of commercial emails.

As was the case a few weeks ago. Frustrated at not being able to find a movie that had been reviewed on "Talking Pictures on Demand" where a panel of film critics talk about the on-demand film offerings, I emailed customer service at the TV station  NY 1. In ten minutes the reply landed in my inbox.

Thanks for your email. I just checked Movies on Demand and I found it. You need to go to channel 500 (Movies) and go to the alphabetical listings. You'll find "Battle Royale" in the A-C section. I know that we have done reviews of movies in the past that might have been unavailable and we try hard to make sure that that doesn't happen.

Thanks again for the feedback and please let me know if you are having any issues finding the film. It's a weird movie....very Japanese.

Steve Paulus General Manager, NY1

As Jo Dolce sang to people putting down Australia in the 1980s - "Hey! It's-a nice-a place."

I was chatting on the phone to a friend in Australia last week, talking about the plight of refugees and how in America we call them "undocumented immigrants", and how welcoming the U.S. really is, when it comes to new arrivals. The conversation went something like this.

Me: We call them "undocumented immigrants" here.
Her: What? I think someone is at the door.
Me: Are you back? I was just saying how in America we call refugees who come here illegally, "undocumented immigrants".
Her: At least we don't have the death penalty. I couldn't live in a country that has the death penalty.

Well I suppose we all couldn't live in countries that we think do bad things. I couldn't live in a country that stoned female adulterers to death for example. Well naturally ... I would be dead.  

Maybe I wouldn't want to live in a country that turns back "boat people"; that even calls other human beings "boat people". But I have, and I no doubt will.

And in any case, it isn't a competition.

Or is it?